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The objective of this study was to determine whether the tubes in which Chironomus larvae dwell protect them against chemical toxicants. A laboratory culture of an Israeli benthic midge, Chironomus luridus, was exposed to copper sulfate. Two conditions were tested in bioassay experiments: larvae within silt tubes and larvae without tubes. The non toxic, anionic, fluorescent dye, fluorescein, was used to examine the effect of sub-lethal copper sulfate concentrations on the permeability of cuticular, gill and gut epithelia of the chironomids. Increased cell permeability, which is the cause of cell damage, was reflected by an increase in fluorescence intensity. Following exposure to copper sulfate, higher fluorescence was found in different body compartments: midgut, hindgut, tracheal gills, fat body and muscles, and the Malpighian tubules. The effect was significantly higher in tube-free larvae when compared to silt tube dwelling larvae. We conclude that in addition to its other functions in feeding, respiration, and anti-predation shelter, the Chironomus luridus tube protects its inhabitant from toxins such as copper sulfate.
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